Monday, February 15, 2010

The Way God Sees the World

I remember the night the Iraq war began. As tensions had been building up, we had engaged in prayer, conversation, and discussion on campus. We had planned an interfaith service to take place during our regular Wednesday night Eucharist service. Half an hour before we were scheduled to begin the service. then President George W. Bush came on national television to inform the country that we were going to war... as we finalized preparation for the service, we stood in front of televisions or by radios listening to the news in disbelief, never imagining how long the conflict would last. Two "generations" of students (four years is a generation in a college campus) have now spent their entire college career with the country at war.

We went ahead with the service as scheduled, and it turned out to be particularly powerful. We had structured the service in two parts. The first part was focused around "word," and included readings from various religious traditions. The community was together for this part as we heard each others' sacred Scriptures. The second part included rituals from the various traditions, and we marked the space in the hall so that each person could participate in a ritual of their own tradition. Christian students received communion while Muslim students offered prayers right next to them and Hindu students engaged in meditation.

Doing the service in that way was not without controversy for some on campus. Yet, I realized that this is the way God sees the world all the time. In that space, as the sounds of our various rituals mingled together, this experience that was new--and perhaps even uncomfortable for some--was really a reflection of how God sees the world each and every "weekend" when various faith communities offer their worship. We do so in our own enclosed spaces, but God sees and hears them all at once.

I think of this now because the experience of that night is in some ways the daily experience in this place--here in Jerusalem. A city that makes its claim on so many around the world, and that so many seek to claim. Here Christians of many traditions worship in the context of one another. On Sunday morning I went to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City. I went to the English service, which is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lebanon and the Holy Land, and a ministry of the ELCA. There is also an Arabic, a German, and a Danish congregation that gathers in that space. The Arabic service was taking place at the same time in the main chapel, while the English service took place in a smaller chapel on the second floor. As we worshiped, we could hear the organ and singing from the Arabic congregation next door. I must say it was somewhat funny to hear them singing lots of 19th century pietistic songs, like “How Great Thou Art,” while we were singing Marty Haugen! Our singing was also punctuated by the sounds of a Muslim call to prayer, and on my way to church that morning, I walked by the Western Wall where Jews were at prayer.

On a regular Sunday, my worship experience takes place in rather "hermetically" sealed space. Down the street--literally--a variety of Christians gather at the same time for worship. I hear their bells ring and see them walking to their respective congregations. But once inside the church, it is easier to imagine that this is all there is. Yet God sees the world differently, hearing the songs and prayers of people throughout the world, in various languages and traditions, all at once. Are the "boundaries" as clear from God's point of view as they can be from ours?

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